It’s common knowledge that good sex feels, er, nice, but what’s the science behind it? We spoke with Dr. Nan Wise, sex neuroscience researcher and author of Why Good Sex Matters, for all the dirty details on what happens to the brain during sex…and let’s just say we’re saying yes, yes, YES to our findings.
1. Blood flow to the brain increases
According to Wise, the brain is the most powerful sex organ there is—a claim that her research into the female orgasm supports. For starters, genital stimulation produces so much muscle and nerve information that the brain experiences a considerable increase in blood flow and oxygen as a result. Indeed, “the ‘big O’ is a ‘big brain’ event, increasing blood flow to a range of brain regions, which is good for brain health…and may be better for the brain than doing crossword puzzles,” says Wise. We think even crossword puzzle enthusiasts can agree that a toe-curling climax is a more exhilarating way to exercise the mind. (Right?)
2. The brain crotch gets activated
Yep, you read that right—there is such a thing as the brain crotch. Or at least that’s the term Wise uses to refer to a recognized region of the brain known as the “genital sensory cortex.” In other words, the brain crotch is the part of the brain that gets hit with all the muscle and nerve information when you or someone else starts, well, diddling down below. Previously, the genital sensory cortex had only been identified in men…but it turns out that the very same part of the brain gets all lit up when a lady’s vagina, clitoris, cervix and/or nipples are stimulated. (Psst: The more erogenous zones you stimulate at once, the more intense your climax will be.)
3. The reward system lights up
In her research on the subject, Wise found that brain activity in multiple regions “gradually increased leading up to orgasm, peaked at orgasm and then decreased” in women, regardless of whether they were having a party for one or being pleasured by a partner. One of the affected regions is the nucleus accumbens—a key part of the brain’s reward system that runs on dopamine. Brain stem activity also increases during sex and peaks at orgasm, resulting in increased levels of serotonin and endorphins. In other words, an orgasm (and the fun stuff leading up to one) produces a trifecta of feel-good chemicals in the brain.
Sex is a good workout for both the body and the mind—and, as far as the latter is concerned, orgasms are especially nutritious. We’re not necessarily saying that sexual pleasure will make you smarter, but it might…and that’s a pretty good reason to spend more time between the sheets.